1-26-2012By Joëlle Fiss
Senior Associate, Fighting Discrimination Program
One year ago David Kato, a prominent Ugandan gay rights activist, was savagely beaten in his home and died on the way to the hospital. His murder, like his heroic activism, focused international attention on the plight of LGBTI Ugandans.
Though prosecutors eventually convicted David’s murderer, the initial government reaction, investigation, and trial did nothing to shed light on the possible homophobic motive. Nor did those actions in any way suggest that the government would finally pay attention to the serious rights abuses daily confronting Uganda’s LGBTI community. The murder occurred amid a rise of homophobic sentiment fostered in large part by religious and political leaders. Homosexuality is a crime punishable by life in prison, and an anti-homosexuality bill that the Parliament has still not fully rejected would drastically increase sanctions for consensual homosexual acts. LGBTI Ugandans continue to suffer widespread discrimination, arbitrary arrests and detention, “correctional” rape and other forms of violence. Media outlets have publicized their names and pictures, causing them to lose their jobs, homes, and family support.
Some LGBTI Ugandans have fled and sought asylum in neighboring countries. There is, however, often little relief because these countries also criminalize homosexuality. Likewise, LGBTI refugees in Uganda from other countries—such as the Democratic Republic of Congo—frequently remain underground, afraid to approach authorities for protection or assistance. Next month, Human Rights First will release a report on the difficulties that LGBTI refugees face in Uganda and Kenya.
These are some of the challenges that last month’s White House memorandum addresses. It seeks to prevent others from suffering David’s fate and to better protect those who flee from violence and discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
David Kato did much to highlight and combat these problems. One year after his murder, brave Ugandan activists continue to advocate for fundamental rights.
Find out more about the incidents of violence and harassment against LGBTI in Uganda HERE.